Sam Whitley, PM
Frontier Lodge No. 28

In Part 2 of our series on conservation I described the process of removing and clearing the barrel of its charge. Part 3 describes repairing the stock fracture in detail.

Interesting new information

Last evening, with the breech plug removed, I drove a pure lead bullet through the barrel to better determine caliber. The slug revealed a bore diameter of 0.355 inches (this makes it nominally a .36 caliber rifle), with a seven-groove right hand twist of 1 turn in 48 inches. The rifling does not appear to be a gain twist. The square grooves are 0.013 inches deep and about 0.055 inches wide, leaving lands about 0.10 inches wide. The muzzle is internally relieved (coned) to a diameter of 0.50 inches at the muzzle to ease loading. It appears this coned section is less than 75 mm long.

Seven grooves were common in rifle and pistol barrels in 19th Century guns (and allude to the Biblical “7” for sufficiency and completeness). Thus the known facts suggest this was nominally a .36 caliber rifle that used a 0.350 inch ball with a 0.015 inch thick patch.

Repairing the Gunstock

When I received the rifle, its stock was shattered at the wrist. As described in Part 2, the stock was at that time held together by vinyl electrician’s tape wrapped several times around the wrist and trigger guard. This reduced the amount the stock could move, but did not afford it much true rigidity. The stock consisted of two large and two small pieces, and one tiny sliver.   The butt stock was in one piece and the forearm was also in one piece. Two small pieces of stock had broken from the belly of the gun where the lock mortise had severely weakened the stock.   The small pieces fit reasonably well in between the fore stock and the butt stock. The larger of these pieces was three and one-quarter inches long, and the smaller piece was about one and a half inches

 

Rifle as received showing one stock crack repaired

Plate 1. Rifle as received, showing one stock crack, “repaired.”


long. The break that comprises the front of the smaller piece is visible just above the rear trigger in front of the electrician’s tape in Plate 1.

The first step in repair was to carefully remove the electrician’s tape and assess the damage. On removing the tape, the break was exposed. Notice that the break is clean through the wrist, with limited amounts of splintering. Note the extensive amount of tape residue at the break site. This hardened adhesive had to be cleaned off the stock with lighter fluid and very careful scraping. There was some staining of the wood underneath the tape. The residue-induced staining was lightened with light scraping. Selective areas that were damaged (i.e. bleached) by percussion cap residue were re-stained as needed.

This preparation also revealed two inlays hidden by the tape “repair.” One is a small heart-shaped inlay on top of the wrist 1.7 cm behind the beehive inlay just aft of the barrel tang This inlay is visible in Plate 2 as a greenish ring atop the wrist. The second inlay that was revealed is the “grip” inlay on the left side of the wrist 1.5 cm behind the goat inlay. This is visible in Plates 2 & 3 as an empty mortise that spans the fracture.  As shown here, the two pieces of stock shown are about 5 cm apart. Before reassembly, all tape residue was removed and the stock cleaned with lighter fluid and light scraping.

 Broken wrist left side front

Plate 2. Broken wrist, left side front.

 Broken wrist left side rear

Plate 3. Broken wrist, left side rear.

Since the objective of the conservation efforts was to stabilize the rifle rather than return it to firing condition, all “repairs” are to be reversible, should future conservation be required. For that reason, the glue of choice was hide glue, a natural adhesive, which while not as strong as some modern glues, can be easily removed with either heat or water. I chose Titebond brand liquid hide glue because it offered more “open time” than hot hide glue.

For the first attempt at repair I glued the four pieces of stock together without any of the metal components attached (but the inlays. I held the stock pieces in alignment with vinyl electrical tape. After two days drying time, I removed the tape and began assembling the parts. The stock repairs were barely visible, with only about a half-mm gap where the pieces met. The barrel mated well, and I was able to push the barrel pin through the fore stock easily with only finger pressure. The barrel was, at this point, missing the breech plug. I installed the trigger plate and then readied the trigger guard for installation.

When I received the gun, the trigger guard was attached to the stock by a single ¾” screw in the guard’s front finial and a cross pin through a lug beneath the back finial. Both methods of attachment are common, but it is rare to see a complete but unused front lug with a pinned rear lug.

When I began to replace the trigger guard, I noticed that it was bent both sideways (over one-quarter inch) and downward. The evidence suggests these bends probably happened after the stock shattered.

Catastrophe!

I installed the wood screw through the front tang (which was bent noticeably upward and had a crack through the guard tang) to secure it. I was then able to insert the rear lug into its mortise, though parts of the rear tang would not fit the mortise because of the bend trigger guard.  But as I was reinstalling the rear cross pin, the stock separated again into two pieces and I was again left with the same problem as before.

I was forced to start over.

I cleaned the hide glue off the repair surfaces and prepared to reassemble the stock a second time. This time, I used India ink to tint the glue to make the repairs less visible. This time, I used the breech plug tang and the trigger plate to help maintain alignment of the stock (this had proved very difficult in the first assembly. The stock pieces did not align as well the second time, even considering the improved alignment offered by the trigger plate and breech plug tang. After a day, the glue still had not set up, and had let the stock move out of register. I removed the electrician’s tape, repositioned the stock and secured the break with latex surgical tubing. Plate 4 illustrates the repair in progress at this point.

 

Wrist repair progress take two

Plate 4. Wrist repair progress – take two.

I set the stock aside for four days until the glue had had time to fully set up. The finished repair at the wrist is shown in Plates 5 and 6 below.

Stock repair lock side 5 compress

Plate 5. Stock repair, lock side.

Figure 5 shows the lock side of the repair and the location of the break. The break passes just forward of the screw at the rearmost end of the lock plate. It shows in Plate 5 as a black line. Note the missing hammer and the square boss that the hammer is normally attached to. As received, there were several short brads driven into the lock mortise edges to support the lock plate and keep it from being pulled into the oversized mortise by the lock bolt. These are unseen in the lock mortise behind the lock plate.

 Stock repair left side 6

 Plate 6. Stock repair, left side.

Plate 6 shows the site of the catastrophic stock break and subsequent repair. Note that the break site angles up from under the goat inlay, traverses diagonally across the grip inlay, and over the top of the wrist. The second crack extends straight downward from the midpoint of the grip inlay to the bottom of the wrist. Note also that the grip inlay is mounted upside down. This is an unexpected condition, as the inlay clearly has an “up side” and a “down side.” I received the rifle with the inlay inverted. As this is a part of the rifle’s history, I re-installed the inlay as it was received and not as it should have been installed by the maker.

Join us next time for Part 4 of the series which covers work with the lock and metal inlays.